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Quality by association across north-south divides: United States accreditation of Mexican institutions of higher education

Gerardo Blanco Ramirez, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Institutional accreditation in higher education presents a dual reality: Accreditation is intended to hold colleges and universities accountable through external evaluation and, at the same time, accreditation constitutes an opportunity for higher education leaders to assess, improve, and communicate the quality of their undertakings. In an increasingly global field of higher education, quality practices become diffused across national boundaries. U.S. institutional accreditation is one of the quality practices embraced around the world; institutions of higher education, particularly in the Global South, aspire to obtain U.S. institutional accreditation. While important, this phenomenon has gone largely unexamined in research. This study follows an ethnographic case study approach to explore in-depth how a Mexican institution of higher education engaged in the process of institutional accreditation with a U.S. regional accrediting agency. One Mexican university located only a few miles away from the U.S.-Mexico border was selected as the site for conducting this case study. The university obtained initial institutional accreditation in 2012, which presented a valuable opportunity for conducting the study. After analyzing line by line nearly 500 pages of documents and conducting thirteen interviews with faculty and administrators from the university, this project presents findings organized around four major themes: (a) Reputational value is a central motivation to pursue U.S. accreditation given that, through accreditation, the institution in Mexico becomes connected to internationally recognized universities; (b) while desirable from many perspectives, the accreditation process triggers a set of intra-organizational dynamics and stressors, chief among them is a complex division of labor in which faculty members are necessary yet distanced from decision making; (c) compliance with highly challenging--yet perceived as fair--standards legitimizes both accreditation process and the U.S. accreditors that are perceived as reluctant players in a process mainly intended to assist emergent systems of higher education; and (d) language and translation are significant concepts to understand the accreditation process as they also establish power relations in which proximity and similarity to the U.S. grants power to the candidate institution. Based on the empirical findings, different interpretations of U.S. institutional accreditation are discussed along with the implications of the study for policy, practice, and further research.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Blanco Ramirez, Gerardo, "Quality by association across north-south divides: United States accreditation of Mexican institutions of higher education" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3603056.